Adventures in Agriculture

Adventures in Agriculture

Highlands County Ag-Venture Teaches Children the Importance of Agriculture

by TERESA SCHIFFER

It’s never too early to start teaching kids about the importance of agriculture, and Highlands County Ag-Venture, Inc. is taking that education seriously. 

Every year, the program provides the opportunity for third-grade students to learn firsthand valuable lessons from various agricultural industries. It’s an outstanding program that is exposing impressionable young minds to important topics.

The idea for the Ag-Venture program took root 20 years ago. Co-chair Danielle Daum shared a bit of its history with us. With her mother, Darlene Phypers, and Christie Waller, Daum developed a vision of an agricultural educational program after visiting such a program in Hillsborough County. Together, they presented their idea to teachers, school board members, local service groups, bankers, and other members of the community. The community embraced the concept and encouraged the group to put together a program. 

An 11-person board—with the help of individuals, organizations, and businesses throughout Highlands County—created the Highlands County Ag-Venture program, which held its first event in 1999.

Ag-Venture is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that derives all of its support from the donations and volunteerism of an enthusiastic public. The only fundraiser they hold is the annual steak dinner, which kicks off the three-day program, though that event is more about introducing the public to the good work they are doing than raising money.

It takes about 150 volunteers each day to make the Ag-Venture program work. Volunteers come from all walks of life. There are businesses who send paid volunteers, retirees, volunteers from service organizations, and other members of the community.

The Ag-Venture program will take place on November 12, 13, and 14 of this year, at the Highlands County Fairgrounds. Volunteers arrive at 8 a.m. to get ready for the day. The children come from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. “While they’re there, they visit seven of our 14 different learning stations,” Daum says. 

The 14 stations cover a wide variety of agricultural topics. “We have the beef station, where they learn about the many beef byproducts, that hamburger isn’t the only thing that comes from a cow,” Daum describes. They play Beef-o-Bingo with mini marshmallows as markers, since marshmallows are made of a beef byproduct. Cowboys at the station teach the children about everything from saddles to cow stomachs. 

Because Florida is the winter capital of the world for strawberries, there is, of course, a strawberry station. The hands-on activities include making strawberry milkshakes and planting strawberry plants to take home. Students learn more about edible plants at a vegetable station. They identify different vegetables and learn about the workers who bring these treasures to our tables. They even plant a mini vegetable garden to take home and transplant. 

In the dairy station, students learn how milk gets from cow to consumer. They learn about the different types of feed for dairy cows and how intensive owning a dairy farm is. During the dairy presentation, the children shake a small cup containing cream, so that when the lesson is over they have made butter, which they get to eat on crackers. There is even a pretend cow for the kids to milk, and a real dairy calf in a pen for them to touch. 

Students also learn about other farm animals at Ag-Venture, and about other plants, such as caladiums. There are lessons on forestry and prescribed burns, citrus groves and the equipment used in them, and several other topics. All of the stations are presented in a way to engage, entertain, and stimulate young minds.

If you would like to get involved with Highlands County Ag-Venture, Inc., contact Daum at Happiness Farms. The phone number is (863) 465-2313, or you can email her at danielle@happinessfarms.com. You can also find information on the program’s Facebook page. This is an excellent, educational program to support, either financially or through volunteering.